Haja Center Rekindles Love of LearningDropout Students Shake Off Drab Colors and Take A Second Shot at Success
The famous slogan, “Let’s reform everything!” lost its meaning in our society long ago. Korea became a weak-kneed giant as an aftermath of the “development ictatorship” of its political leadership in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and the school stem supporting this ailing society as also as old and piritless as the political system. Our society indoctrinates young students to respect principles such as, “If you do not concentrate on studying, you would be responsible for your loss,” “Wait until you enter college,” and “Suppress your desires and sensibilities.”Students who are accepted at the nation’s top universities are the ones who have successfully inter-nalized those principles. They used their talents to camouflage themselves in drab colors, which then began to run together and blend into a uniform, drab gray.
Surprisingly, there are still some youngsters wearing bright colors. While our entire society repeats the slogan, “Do nothing,” they started to raise their voices, “Let’s do it!” “Let’s do it ? who wants to join?” “Let’s do it whenever we want!” they shouted in one voice. Haja Center, located in Yeongdeungpo, was opened only one year ago, but many people from Asia have visited and exclaimed over the center. What do they see in this place?
Four youngsters opened a small snack bar, named Coco Bongo, in one corner of Haja - in Korean “Let’s Do It” - Center. Here they learned how to manage their own lives by cooking, washing dishes, keeping account books and establishing their business. In room 107, students opened a classroom for humanities and social sci-ence where they read and study languages of our modern day. Youngsters in room 105 opened an on-line name card company and sell name cards of their own dis-tinctive designs. The pop music studio on the third floor of the center is always flooded with teenage DJs and engineers who benchmark the Internet broadcasting stations run by youth throughout the world. They investigate why their programs are not as popular as others. Some are busy composing songs for the first anniversary of the center, producing CDs and posting all these processes on the Internet in video files.
All the youth at the center know that they no longer live in an era in which either college degrees or certifications can guarantee the future. They feel pity for the obsession of adults, who believe that students will never succeed if they drop out of school. Rather, they ask those adults in turn how they possibly survive in our current chaotic society if they have to give up the joy of learning and the pleasure of living together and to become near-machines with no desires. What they fear the most is the disease of spiritlessness because of participating in the current system of schooling.
For those who have learned how to receive an education actively, school will no longer be a place which tries to crush them, but a space for observation and active participation.Students who do not want to be controlled by the existing mass production system are now creating a new space of their own. They know about democracy and globalization from the roots after acclimating to the politics of round table discussions. While they are here at the Haja Center, they set forth seven principles to respect: One, we will do what we want, while doing what we have to do. Two, we will never discriminate against others on the basis of age, gender, education or regional background. Three, we will not exercise any form of violence. Four, we will be responsible for our conduct. Five, we will share information and resources. Six, we will try our best to understand other people’s situations. Seven, we will keep our word, and we will never make a promise that cannot be
In a period of transition, those who accomplish things early can be defeated by those who started late, even those who found them-selves after dropping out of school. Now, I know the secret of the “butterfly effect”: a small wing flap of a butterfly initiates a typhoon.
The writer is a professor of sociology at Yonsei University.
by Cho Hae-joang